When most people think about blockchain, they probably think about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. They might think about how much money some people have made from investments. But blockchain is so much more than just a way for tech-savvy people to get rich.
Blockchain is basically a technology that allows any platform built on it to be secure, incorruptible, and completely transparent. There’s no need for any intermediaries getting in the way, slowing processes down and possibly corrupting things.
While the technology is still in its infancy, blockchain is looking to be a very promising solution to some of our world’s most serious problems such as corruption, financial inequality and access to information. Though there’s a long way to go before all the kinks are worked out, blockchain technology has already made some improvements towards a more free and just world, even now in its early stages.
Let’s take a look at some of the incredible ways this technology is improving global human rights and making our world a better place to live.
1. Aid Refugees in Need
The global refugee crisis is one of, if not the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era. This complex issue requires a plethora of solutions to better the lives of those displaced. One such solution was created utilizing blockchain and cryptocurrency to improve refugees’ lives. But how?
On May 31, 2017, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) provided over 10,000 Syrian refugees with cryptocurrency-based vouchers that could be redeemed in participating markets.
“All funds received by the refugees from WFP were specifically used to purchase food items such as olive oil, pasta and lentils,” Alexandra Alden, a consultant for WFP, told Coinbase.
Since refugees are displaced, most of them don’t have access to a bank account of any kind to receive funds. But thanks to blockchain technology, thousands and thousands of people in need were able to obtain some currency to help feed themselves and their families.
This amazing project was done on the Ethereum blockchain with the help of Parity Technologies, a startup led by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, along with blockchain big data firm Datarella.
WFP’s Director of Innovation and Change Management, Robert Opp, explained why blockchain is such a big deal for improving global human rights:
Blockchain technology allows us to step up the fight against hunger. Through blockchain, we aim to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies. Using blockchain can be a qualitative leap – not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community.
2. Bridge the Poverty Gap
Sending money overseas can be very costly, and often the poorest get hit the hardest. Africa is currently the most costly continent to send money to.
Large intermediaries, such as banks and Western Union, take big cuts when sums of money are transferred, and it often takes a long time for the funds to clear. But because blockchain is decentralized, these problems are greatly reduced. This means businesses and families gain more economic freedom.
One such company utilizing blockchain technology to make money transfers more affordable is BitPesa. BitPesa is an online payment platform that leverages blockchain settlement to significantly lower the cost and increase the speed of business payments to, from, and within sub-Saharan Africa.
BitPesa is just one example of how blockchain technology can reduce global poverty. It puts more power in the hands of individuals, instead of big banks and corporations.
3. Reduce Slavery
The seafood industry is notorious for human rights violations and illegal fishing. In Asia, the prawn industry has been caught using slave labor on their boats, forcing men to work for no pay under extremely harsh conditions. If they refuse, they are brutally murdered.
Then large companies like Walmart, Costco, Tesco, and Aldi buy seafood from distributors that are committing these atrocious crimes, and unsuspecting customers end up serving their families food harvested by slaves, furthering the vicious cycle of violence.
The problem is it’s very difficult to know where your food comes from and whether it was harvested ethically or not. That’s where blockchain comes in. Blockchain is a digital ledger that is accessible by everyone. This means it can bring transparency to supply chains, allowing end buyers and consumers to verify where their food came from and how it got there, all on their smartphones.
A UK-based company called Provenance is doing exactly this. Provenance is a platform that empowers brands to take steps toward greater transparency by tracing the origins and histories of products.
Provenance founder Jessi Baker told the Guardian:
We want to help support fish that is caught sustainably and verify these claims down the chain to help drive the market for slavery-free fish. This pilot shows that complex, global supply chains can be made transparent by using blockchain technology.
While blockchain technology can’t directly eradicate slavery from the fishing industry, it provides public access to information. This opens up the supply chain for anyone to scrutinize. Nobody wants to knowingly buy prawns harvested by slave labor.
As the public becomes more educated on what they’re buying, companies that source their products ethically will naturally rise to the top, while those committing human rights violations will take a nose dive in sales and ultimately fail.
4. Protect Land Rights
There’s a problem in Honduras where corrupt bureaucrats are stealing people’s land. They’re easily able to do this by simply changing ownership on the land titles that are all stored in a centralized database.
Factom, a blockchain company, took note and decided to do something about this injustice. They began collecting land titles in Honduras on a decentralized blockchain database. Without any intermediaries needed, no corrupt individuals could decide to change any of the documents.
As their website states:
We see a future world where fraud, corruption, and forgery are a thing of the past. We believe in keeping private data private and securing the world’s wealth because privacy and possession of property are basic human rights.
Thanks to blockchain technology, many landowners in Honduras are now able to be protected from corruption and maintain their sovereignty and dignity.
5. Eradicate Conflict Diamonds
Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, is a term used for diamonds “mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, an invading army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity”, according to Wikipedia.
In 2000, African diamond-producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa to discuss ways to stop the trade in conflict diamonds and ensure that diamond purchases were not financing violent rebel movements seeking to undermine legitimate governments, or their allies. To solve this complex issue, the Kimberley Process was created—a commitment to remove conflict diamonds from the global supply chain—using blockchain, of course!
The UN mandated that all diamond traders must follow the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which imposes requirements that must be verified on the blockchain. They must commit to transparent practices and to the exchange of data. All of this data is freely available on the blockchain, which means suppliers can be certified conflict-free.
The result of this blockchain technology is the eradication of 99.8% of the worldwide trade of conflict diamonds.
6. Protect Against Voter Fraud
Modern voting systems are extremely out of date, still relying on paper ballots. There’s been hesitation to move it online, out of fear of security breaches.
But moving the voting system onto the blockchain could be the perfect solution, because it’s encrypted, decentralized, and incorruptible. Blockchain would protect against voter fraud because the network cannot be influenced or corrupted by a single party since it doesn’t exist in one single place. Officials can count votes with absolute certainty, knowing that tampering is impossible.
Horizon State is a firm working to bring blockchain to the voting populace. They’ve created a secure digital ballot box that voters can use to cast their votes right from their phone or computer—no manipulation, recording errors, or tampering, guaranteed.
This is set to be a global gamechanger and will soon be adopted by political parties, multinational enterprises, global NGOs and communities in developing countries.
The government of Moscow has taken note of this technology. They recently announced they have developed a pilot system for tracking votes via blockchain, in order to reduce the risk of fraud when people are voting on city management issues.
This is great news for all voting citizens around the globe, as we are moving towards a system that will better ensure that our voices are heard. Blockchain technology is helping redesign democracy for the 21st century.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of what blockchain is capable of. Every day, ingenious entrepreneurs are discovering new uses for this technology that can potentially transform our world as we know it, from improving the refugee crisis to reducing slavery to making our voting systems more secure.
It is a truly exciting time to be alive, and the future is bright with innovation to improve the lives of people all over the globe, all thanks to this new technology called blockchain.